Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Moyan Brenn, a photographer, traveler, hiker, and local here to tell us all about Anzio – a harbor town that’s home to some fascinating WWII history, Roman ruins, and important art.
First, tell us about you.
I am a photographer and a traveler. I am also a security consultant and have lived in Anzio since I was born, 30 years ago. My mother’s family is from Lazio and my father’s is half Sicilian and half Lazian. My passions are music, hiking, photography, traveling, documentaries, cartoons, and gourmet chocolate.
If someone is visiting Anzio for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Start with the grotte di Nerone (the caves of Nero) and Ostia, a nearby region known for its old ruin-filled beach, formerly owned by the Roman emperors. There, you can still see the basements of the rich villas and the rest of the Roman harbor.
You should also visit the very famous Nettuno American International Cemetery in Nettuno.
Finally, in Anzio itself, there’s the little commercial harbor, which is full of lovely restaurants, and the WWII museum, which is full of clothes and photos.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
We have very few hotels and B&Bs and, as always, the best thing to do for accommodation is to rely on reviews of users on websites like Booking.com. There’s no better choice than this, based on my own traveling experience.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Well, my opinion differs greatly from most tourist organizations. Whether you’re visiting my town or basing yourself in Rome, I’d recommend:
The Garden of Ninfa, a beautiful, well-known garden with a little stream and a miniature waterfall. They are astonishing. I have visited them six times and still want to take more pictures.
The hill town of Sermoneta: the best and the most typical Medieval Italian town in the Ciociaria mountain region. Visiting here is like going back in time. And, on your way home, stop by the Abbey of Valvisciolo, which is beautiful, Medieval, and free.
For those who like WWII history, the Piana delle Orme Museum, located at Strada Migliara 43 e Mezzo 29 in Borgo Faiti, is an incredible museum full of old vehicles and a large-scale reconstruction of the famous Auschwitz station of Poland. It’s simply unbelievable.
For those who like beaches, I suggest the Island of Ponza, whose ships depart from the harbor of Anzio (and which was recently visited by Nicolas Cage). The sea is beautiful there. That said, be careful because it’s a risky zone for tourists. Before choosing a hotel, B&B, or restaurant, be sure to check Booking.com or Tripadvisor.com, and don’t trust the boat men who want to take you to beaches with their boats once you arrive. Be sure to go only to beaches recommended on your favorite guide or possibly try to rent a little vehicle so that you can be self-guided.
Finally, for the history buffs, I suggest the famous Cassino Abbey, well known for the American aviation bombing during WWII.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Fish! Anzio is very famous for its fish dishes and even people from Rome come to Anzio to try them. We don’t really have tourist traps, junk food, or high prices, so wherever you decide to go along the main harbor, you’ll be safe and have great food.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
The most famous recommended restaurants are Romolo al Porto, located at Via Porto Innocenziano 19, and Alceste, located at Piazza Sant’Antonio 6. Both are situated along the harbor.
For a more romantic view, Il Turcotto, located at Riviera 44 Mallozzi, faces the Caves of Nero.
Pastry bars: Graziosi at 1/3 Corso Del Popolo, Stampeggioni (at Via Nettunense 219), and Marotta at Via Filibeck 17. All three are close to the main square and they are the best places in town for breakfast or cakes.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Italian people don’t like people who easily get drunk.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Here’s a simple trick to make friends in Anzio: just ask people to tell you about their favorite football (soccer) team (the exact phrase is di che squadra sei?). The most common answers are Roma and Lazio. Once you know the person’s favorite, just say Forza Roma! or Forza Lazio! (whichever team they prefer), which means “I love Roma!” or “I love Lazio!” I guarantee you that it will be like having a VIP pass on your hand. You will be impressed by how friendly they will suddenly become.
Why should people make sure to visit Anzio?
Anzio is the old sea heart of Italy. It was one of the first Italian harbors in the Roman Empire and visiting the Caves of Nero, especially at sunset, will make you feel like you are in a time machine.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
The Caves of Nero at sunset and the main harbor in the early morning (before 9 a.m.).
Anything else you want us to know?
Anzio is famous for two reasons: 1) its popularity during the Roman Empire, along with Ostia, and 2) its role in the conquering of Rome by American soldiers during WWII. That is why we have a little war museum, a wide American international cemetery, and the Piana delle Orme Museum.